A couple of months ago I was invited to attend Gloucester Gin Festival, and with over 100 different gins to try how could I possibly say no? I remember my first gin and tonic. I was introduced to it by a colleague in my first year of teaching and ever since it has been my drink of choice. It’s only been over the last few years that my eyes have been opened to just how many different gins are available. Gin Festival is the perfect place to try a few different gins and find your new favourite one.
Gloucester Gin Festival was held at Blackfriars, in the centre of the city. When we arrived we were greeted by a member of the Gin Festival team who gave us a Gin Festival glass each to use throughout the evening and explained to us about how the event worked. There were four bars: A and B were where we would find British gins, C had international gins and D had the “fruity” gins. My husband isn’t really a gin drinker, so we headed off to bar D to find him something he would like.
Upon our arrival we were also given a copy of “The Gin Book” – this was basically a miniature bible for gin lovers. It listed all the gins that were available on the bars, with a bit about each one and recommendations for how it should be garnished and which tonic or mixer to have with it. Whilst we enjoyed each drink, we would be perusing the book, trying to decide which gin to try next! You “buy” each gin using tokens which you purchase separately – 4 tokens for £20. Each gin costs one token, and each cocktail costs 2 tokens. Once you have your gin, there is an unlimited supply of Fever-tree tonics and mixers that you can add to your drink.
The staff on the bars were so helpful and friendly. They were able to explain what the different gins were like and how they should be served. I was recommended a couple of gins from Bar C to try and I really wasn’t disappointed by them! Bobby’s Schiedam Gin was absolutely amazing – spicy and served with orange and cloves, it had a lovely Christmassy feel about it. I also loved VL92 with its malty, oaked flavours that added a hint of whiskey to it.
Gin Festival Bar D was a revelation to my husband. I think the evening has now turned him into a gin lover! The wonderful staff on the bar started him off with Sikkim Bilberry which had blueberry and blackberry flavours. He really enjoyed the Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger – you could very easily drink this neat and enjoy the flavour, reminiscent of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. Thankfully, you can also buy bottles to take away with you from the Gin Festival Off-Licence, so we made sure we got one of these at the end of the evening.
There is more to Gin Festival than just drinking gin though. There are masterclasses run by experts to help you learn more about gin plus music, food and representatives from some of the brands. The place was packed full of people who were passionate about gin. I really enjoyed talking to the people from Pinkster gin, which is produced in Cambridge using fresh raspberries. Whilst chatting to them, I was able to try a sample of Pinkster. It had a wonderful hint of raspberries and would be a lovely gin to enjoy on a hot, summer’s day.
We were also lucky enough to be able to try a sample of JJ Whitley Elderflower gin – which wasn’t available at the bars. Again, the representatives from the brand are not only passionate about gin, they really do know how to get the best from it. We were shown just how the addition of a squeeze of lime lifts this drink to another level.
I think what surprised me most from the evening wasn’t so much the sheer variety of different gins, but the huge range of garnishes that could be served – and they really did make a difference. Next to every bottle of gin at the bars was a little bowl of the recommended garnish to go with it. Northumberland produced Steam Punk gin was garnished with basil, Cotswold Dry Gin was garnished with pink grapefruit and bay leaf, Aviation American Gin was served with lavender and West Winds ‘The Cutlass’ came with pieces of red and green bell pepper. All of these garnishes really added something to the flavour of the drink. My experience of most bars is that I am lucky to get a slice of lime rather than lemon to go with my G&T, I think Gin Festival may have given me unrealistic expectations of what to expect next time I go to my local pub!
Karen Whitlock is based in Gloucester and blogs at Stopping At Two. She writes about what she loves best – her family and gin! Karen started drinking gin when she started teaching, continued drinking it when she became a mother to two girls and now drinks it simply because she loves it!
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